This warm cheese dish originated in the Valais canton of Switzerland where farmers and herdsman would make a meal of cheese melted by campfire or hearth, potatoes and pickles. Historians conjecture that at some point the cheese got too close to the fire and the melted cheese dish was born. The cheese and the dish have been documented back as far as the year 1291 and at that time was called Bratchäs.
There has been much evolution of the dish since those early days. Today besides the requisite potatoes and pickles any number of foods are eaten with the cheese including fish, poultry, vegetables and sometimes even wild game.
Raclette cheeses are typically round weighing 13 to 17 lbs and are about 11" in diameter and 3" thick. The cheeses are all cow's milk have in common a creamy consistency which easily melts but does not get too runny. The semi-firm cheese is normally aged about 3 or 4 months.
The different cheeses are named after the villages from which they are produced. The three premier villages are Gomser, Conches, Bagnes, and Orsieres on Raclette. Look for these names for the best cheeses.
Selecting Cheese - the cheese should have a dark beige rind with no cracks or reddening. The texture should be creamy and dry or granular.
In the Swiss tradition raclette cheese is melted over an open fire and melted slowly. As the cheese melts it is scraped off the wheel and served with boiled potatoes, bread, cornishons (pickles) and other pickled vegetables.
Today you can purchase raclette machines that have an arm with a heating element that points down on the cheese and melts it or raclette grills have become very popular. Each style machine is described below.
Adapted from recipe by Tori Ritchie. Makes: about 6 servings